11 months, 2 weeks ago From pjstar.com
Fifty years ago this week, history was made by a central Illinoisan when Pekin’s Sen. Everett Dirksen, a staunch conservative, wrangled enough votes to help break a filibuster and ensure Senate passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.
He was an integral part of negotiations on the bill from the start, despite leading a superminority caucus in a government where all levers of power were controlled by the opposition.
You don’t quite see that kind of working together for the common good as often in this more fractured, cynical era, and arguably Congress is the poorer for it — certainly something that’s shown with overall approval ratings hovering around those of the less-popular diseases.
But we didn’t want to focus on the negative this week. Central Illinois is renowned for producing leaders of conscience, people who prioritize improving the country above scoring political points or beating the opposition — people like Dirksen and his successors Bob Michel and Ray LaHood.
Who do the current folks holding congressional seats for the area point to when they think of our modern-day Dirksens?
Rep. Cheri Bustos pointed back to LaHood — out of government service, but still a player on national issues — because of his ability to put people over politics consistently throughout a decades-long career.
And the East Moline Democrat said that Illinois’ congressional delegation is unusual, perhaps even unique, in the fact that they have regular, bipartisan monthly lunch meetings. She’s “gotten to know many of her Illinois colleagues on both a personal and professional level through these regular lunches,” spokesman Colin Milligan said. That’s something that makes it harder to demonize and easier to work together.
Rep. Aaron Schock argued that now, as then, coalitions form on a situational, case-by-case basis. That means that, in his eyes, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., would qualify.
“To the degree we do immigration reform ever, (he) has to be credited with the work that he led” in the Senate, the Peoria Republican said. “(Illinois’ U.S. Sen.) Dick Durbin actually said that if immigration reform happens, Marco Rubio deserves the credit.”
Schock said that those personalities filling a Dirksen-like role can shift and change with the debate, but “each moment throughout our history cries out for leadership. … Dirksen was emblematic of someone who was willing to take the political fallout and make the tough decisions because, in his words, he’d rather be right than consistent.”